When anyone is accused of a crime, especially a violent crime such as assault that carries harsh penalties for conviction, it is easy for them to feel that the entire criminal justice system is working against them and that their situation is hopeless. This feeling is even more acutely felt by members of the military who are beholden to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the set of laws specially constructed for members of the United States military. Thus, if you serve in any branch of the US armed forces and have been charged with an assault, not only do you face harsher penalties than you would in a civilian criminal trial, but your entire military career could be on the line.
Civilian Military Attorney Representing Military Members Charged With Assault
Attorney Aaron Meyer is a former Marine Corps judge advocate officer. He now leverages his military experience and legal education to provide comprehensive and aggressive criminal defense representation to US armed forces members accused of violating the UCMJ. Attorney Meyer’s dedication to protecting his clients’ rights has enabled him to maintain a perfect record with zero lost cases.
When you need a criminal defense lawyer after being charged with assault on the base, it’s vital to have legal counsel you can trust. A military defense lawyer can offer your best chance of avoiding conviction and the severe penalties prescribed by the articles of the UCMJ. Attorney Aaron Meyer and his team are committed to providing the client-focused and responsive defense representation a US service member needs when they face assault charges, and their career is at stake.
What Is a Military Defense Lawyer?
Military criminal court is very different from civilian criminal court. If you are a member of any branch of the US armed forces and are accused of a crime, you have the right to legal counsel and must choose a defense attorney who has experience in military criminal court. A civilian criminal defense lawyer with no military experience cannot navigate the complex laws and statutes of the UCMJ that your case will entail, nor will they be prepared to handle the procedural requirements of your case. A military defense lawyer is specifically trained to navigate the UCMJ and criminal procedure laws for the United States military branches.
When a service member faces criminal charges, they have the option of handling their own representation, which is never a wise option, having a detailed military attorney handle their defense, or hiring their own civilian military defense lawyer at their own expense. Similar to a public defender in civilian criminal court, a detailed military defense attorney can help their client navigate the basics of their case and will know how to interpret military laws, but they typically handle several cases at a time and cannot provide clients with much individual attention. By comparison, you can expect a much higher level of representation from a military civilian defense attorney.
How Much Does a Civilian Military Lawyer Cost?
When you are a military service member in need of defense counsel for an assault case, you may worry about the cost of legal fees when you hire a private civilian military defense lawyer to represent you. While it’s true that you will need to pay out of your own pocket for a private defense attorney, you are investing in a much higher quality of legal counsel than you could obtain otherwise.
If you have any concerns about how much your defense attorney will cost, ask them about their billing policy and how long they expect to spend working on your case. Most defense attorneys bill by the hour, so the more time your attorney spends working on your case, the more expensive your legal fees will be. An excellent civilian military defense attorney will provide a prospective client with a transparent breakdown of their billing policy, so the client is fully informed about the potential cost of their representation.
Why You Need a Military Defense Attorney in an Assault Case
Whether you have been wrongfully accused of assault, acted in self-defense, or made a mistake and committed some form of assault, it is essential to have a reliable defense attorney on your side when you face an assault charge in military court. The penalties for conviction are much more severe than they would be in civilian criminal court and have the potential to completely dismantle and invalidate all the work and sacrifices you have put into your military career.
There is one main similarity between a military criminal case for an assault charge and an assault case that unfolds in civilian criminal court: The burden of proof rests on the prosecution. The prosecutors handling your case must prove that you committed an assault and violated the UCMJ beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s your military defense attorney’s job to prevent that from happening. Of course, no defense attorney can promise an acquittal or any specific outcome to any client, but a good defense attorney will explore every potential option for defending their client, having charges reduced or dropped, and punching holes in the prosecution’s case at the foundational level.
When you choose Aaron Meyer Law to represent you, you will have Attorney Meyer’s aggressive and meticulous defense approach on your side. Attorney Meyer strives to completely dismantle a prosecutor’s case at the most basic levels. Your defense team will highlight every procedural violation and misstep the prosecution makes, gather any exculpatory evidence available that may support your defense, and help you approach every phase of your case with confidence and clarity.
UCMJ Article 128
The articles of the UCMJ provide the framework of the character and behavior each US service member is expected to embody during their service. Enlisted service members, noncommissioned officers, and officers at every rank are expected to adhere to the articles of the UCMJ and face severe penalties for failure to do so. For example, Article 128 of the UCMJ pertains to assault. Article 128 defines two distinct types of assault, which carry severe penalties for the accused if they are convicted: simple assault and assault consummated by battery. While the former can pose severe penalties, the punishment for the latter is much more severe.
“Simple assault” is the attempt or threat of physical assault. “Assault consummated by battery” is the completion of such an attempt or threat. The penalties for either form of assault can vary based on multiple factors, such as whether a weapon was involved, the age of the alleged victim, and the alleged victim’s rank in the military. It’s important to note that a US service member can still face UCMJ prosecution if they commit an assault while off-duty or against a civilian.
Potential Penalties for Assault Conviction in the Military
Every assault case tried in military court will involve various unique elements. As a result, the accused can face a wide range of penalties depending on the type of assault committed and the status of the alleged victim:
- The lowest possible penalty for simple assault under the UCMJ includes loss of two-thirds of the accused’s military pay for three months, three months of confinement, and possible demotion.
- Simple assault with an unloaded firearm carries a more severe dishonorable discharge sentence, three years of confinement in military prison, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
- Assault consummated by battery at the most basic level is punishable by a bad conduct discharge, six months of confinement, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
- Committing any assault against a petty officer, warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or commissioned offer will lead to a penalty of dishonorable discharge, confinement for up to 18 months, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
- Committing any assault against a service member performing official duties, a sentinel, or a lookout will lead to a penalty of dishonorable discharge, three years of confinement in military prison, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
- An assault consummated by battery against a child under 16 is punishable by dishonorable discharge, two years of confinement in military prison, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. If the offender used a deadly weapon in this offense, their sentence escalates to five years in military prison. If the offender used a loaded firearm in this offense, the sentence further increases to eight years in prison.
- An aggravated assault using any weapon or instrument capable of causing grievous bodily harm or death is typically punished by three years of confinement in military prison, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and dishonorable discharge.
- Aggravated assault and intentional infliction of injury will typically lead to a penalty of dishonorable discharge, five years of confinement in military prison, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. In addition, the penalty increases to eight years in prison if the victim was under the age of 16, and it increases to 10 years if the weapon was a loaded firearm.
It is important to note that “forfeiture of all pay and allowances” means all the pay and special allowances earned so far during the accused’s military career. Since they would likely have spent some or most of these funds at this time, they would be expected to repay everything they have earned so far during their military service as part of their sentence. Essentially, conviction of most types of assault will virtually wipe out the entirety of the accused’s military career and cause them extreme financial distress for many years.
A record of dishonorable discharge can also make it difficult for the defendant to secure work in their civilian life after being kicked out of the military. For example, they may not qualify for certain types of financing or financial aid or qualify to work in government positions. Ultimately, the penalties for an assault conviction in military criminal court can extend beyond those prescribed by the court martial process.
What to Expect in a Military Criminal Case for Assault
A defendant facing an assault charge in military criminal court will likely face additional charges as well. For example, if a defendant is charged with assault consummated by battery or assault of an officer, they will also likely have simple assault added to their case. Likewise, if the accused is charged with sexual assault, they may have simple assault or assault consummated by battery added to their case and face prosecution under multiple articles of the UCMJ. It’s common for military assault cases to involve multiple UCMJ violations, and the penalties increase dramatically when the defendant is charged with violating several articles of the UCMJ.
Remember that the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt rests on the prosecution in any criminal case. For example, suppose you are faced with assault charges in military court. In that case, the prosecution must prove that you attempted, threatened, or completed an assault against the alleged victim beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution can build their case around the alleged victim’s statements, eyewitness testimony, and physical evidence from the scene of the alleged assault.
Your defense attorney’s job is to prevent the prosecution from proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, they may leverage the prosecution’s own evidence against them, offer contradictory evidence, or establish an affirmative defense for their client. For example, one of the most commonly cited defenses to assault charges in both civilian and military criminal courts is self-defense. If the defendant can prove the alleged victim was, in fact, the aggressor in the situation in question, they may be able to avoid conviction.
Understanding Court Martial Proceedings
Criminal cases in the military unfold through the court martial process. The special court martial process pertains to federal misdemeanor charges, while the general court martial is reserved for cases that would unfold at the felony level in a civilian court. The processes for these two types of courts martial are slightly different, and the general court martial process is more procedurally stringent, with harsher penalties on the line. Most assault cases prosecuted in the military unfold through the general court martial process.
Before a general court martial trial can begin, the military must conduct an Article 32 investigation of the accused. This is essentially a preliminary hearing that determines whether a general court martial trial is necessary. Once the general court martial begins, it may take one of two possible forms. The accused has the right to select a trial by judge alone (except in capital cases) or a trial consisting of a military judge and a jury of at least five members. The five members of the jury are typically selected from the accused’s base or duty station. They may be people the defendant knows and has encountered in the past, and the military branches uphold different procedures for ensuring juror impartiality.
It is important to note another crucial difference between military criminal court and civilian criminal court. While a civilian criminal court requires the jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by unanimous verdict, the military criminal court process in a court martial only requires a three-quarters majority vote of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
When it comes to appealing the decision of the general court martial trial, most cases are automatically appealed through the convening authority that opened the case in the first place. This party must evaluate the decision of the general court martial, including the defendant’s plea, and they have the authority to reduce or drop charges or lessen the defendant’s sentence. This convening authority may not increase the defendant’s sentence, however. Since the court martial trial proceeds directly to sentencing upon conviction, this review by the convening authority is essentially a procedural step. The defendant may have the opportunity to offer evidence to show their character, justify a reduced sentence or dropped charge, or raise concerns about the court’s handling of the case.
Talk to Military Civilian Assault Defense Lawyer Aaron Meyer
The legal representation you can expect from Attorney Meyer and the team at Aaron Meyer Law is unlike anything you could hope to see from a detailed military defense attorney or a civilian defense lawyer with no experience in military court. Attorney Meyer has years of experience navigating the most demanding military criminal defense cases on behalf of his clients. He leverages the training and education he received as a member of the Marine Corps and a judge advocate officer to help his clients approach their criminal cases with confidence.
Attorney Meyer has maintained a spotless track record, helping all past clients secure case dismissals or acquittals. While no attorney can promise any specific result to a client, you can rest assured that when you choose Aaron Meyer Law to represent you in an assault case, your defense team brings years of solid experience to the table. Attorney Meyer believes in aggressive, alacritous, and responsive defense counsel for every client he represents.
It’s easy to feel trapped and hopeless when you face prosecution for assault in military court. A conviction could mean your military career is over, and the penalties you incur will negatively influence your life for years to come. Whether you made a mistake or were wrongfully accused, you need legal counsel you can trust to navigate the procedures of the UCMJ and the complexities of your unique case. If you are ready to discuss your defense options with a military civilian assault defense attorney you can trust, contact Aaron Meyer Law today to schedule a consultation with our team.